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Campus life: undergraduate cultures from the end of the eighteenth century to the present.

Campus Life: Undergraduate Cultures from the End of the Eighteenth Century to the Present.

Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz. Knopf, $24.95. Who's to blame for our zombie youth? Nope, not conservative demons like rock-and-roll or "relativism' or casual sex. Not liberal scapegoats like Ronald Reagan, though his brand of politics is quickly filed away in the category "fraternities, anti-Semites, and conservatives.' Here the usual suspect cultural phenomena go free.

In their place Horowitz gives us a strange and intractable enemy: "students in the past,' who created "undergraduate subcultures' that still rule our campuses. First, there were College Men, who have long lived a life of fraternities and secret societies, rumbles, ritual alcoholism, cheating, and sports. Through their antics, fun-loving "clubmen' or "Greeks' institutionalized their hostility to authority. In the early 1800s, for example, students horsewhipped the president of the University of North Carolina and stoned two professors. Yale men bombed a residence hall in the 1820s and murdered a tutor who tried to intervene in the melee. Boola boola.

Then there are Outsiders, grimly hard-working students who view higher education as nothing more than an apprenticeship to professional life. Its progenitors were ministry students at sectarian institutions. Their successors: "townies,' freed slaves, and women in the 19th century; GI Bill veterans and Asian-Americans in the 20th.

Finally, there are Rebels, a best-of-both-worlds alternative. They appeared just before World War I, children of wealthy German-Jewish merchants or certain WASP families that "sustained a quiet nonconformity.' These were students barred by discrimination or their own lack of interest from the tumble of fraternities, and at the same time could not accommodate themselves to Outsider monasticism. So they fashioned a third force, a worldly style "as hedonistic as the College Man,' but intellectually curious and scornful of frat-boy high jinks.

It is Horowitz's contention that the history of campus life is the story of these three subcultures struggling to capture the zeitgeist. Outsider theology students were the first champs, but frat-boys reigned undisputed through most of the 19th century. The first half of the 20th century was a Texas death-match between College Men and Outsiders, but both were overwhelmed by the stunning Rebel victory of the 1960s. Aided by the rebellion's excess and adult "repression' (i.e. Kent State), a new breed of Outsiders--the cold-sweat nightmare Horowitz shares with Allan Bloom--has since enjoyed a two-decade long winning streak.

What's wrong with this picture? To begin with, its categories seem little more than a taxonomy of Horowitz's prejudices. Kids involved in sports, fraternities, and student government, she sniffs, are mere lemmings "who feel they need a ready-made group life with a clear identity.' The ruling party of New Outsiders ("the great unwashed') isn't much better in her book. Faced with mammoth tuition increases, these students "assumed their parents' cost-accounting perspective' and have the temerity to "demand of courses a return on the financial investment.' Such grim careerism may once have been appropriate to certain social classes--"the Jewish grinds . . . would have felt at home'--but Horowitz has watched in recent years "as the nation's privileged children adopted it.'

Of course there are the Rebels, Horowitz's favorites, who share her aristocratic disdain for most of their classmates. Listening to them laugh about the brown-nosing graspers, she is overcome with nostalgia for those "lively collegians of earlier days.' Who, for example? Well, Margaret Mead, for one, and--no kidding--Walter Lippmann.

Model Rebels like these make clear the final snobbery of Horowitz's student classification system. Mead spent her years at Barnard apple-polishing Franz Boaz and writing love poems to Ruth Benedict. At Harvard, near William James and George Santayana, Lippmann set still-standing world records in sycophancy. What's the real difference between such Rebels and your run-of-the-mill Outsider today? Nothing so superficial as the Rebels' sex habits or "artistic dress,' but rather the fact that they go on to become "America's premier writers and intellectuals.' It's an exclusive club, and not much else.
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Author:Tell, David
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1987
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